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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Life and Times of Absolute Truth

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
The Life and Times of Absolute Truth
Sounds like … Worship-oriented modern/alternative rock leaning towards the sounds of The Police, U2, and DeliriousAt a Glance … Tree63 shows growth in certain capacities, but some new songs sound similar to those on the last record and their lyrics fail to cover any new ground.

Although mainstream American audiences have yet to embrace them, Tree63 shot to the top of the secular charts in their homeland of Durban, South Africa, just over six years ago. The group's combination of confident vocal presentations over a series of swirling guitars led to various offers with general market labels who promised the band "massive success" if they would water down the spiritual content of both their recordings and stage shows. As tempting as such offers were, Tree63 wasn't willing to accept any form of compromise, and as a result turned down everything brought to the table so they could boldly deliver the Gospel without being censored.

The band's waiting period paid off, as Christian-based Inpop Records came along to sign Tree63 to a contract which matched their vision of music and ministry, and to release their official self-titled debut in 2000. U.S. audiences were introduced to the band through both radio airplay and concert settings, with Tree63 opening up Rebecca St. James' Transform tour. Getting the chance to play in front of sold-out crowds virtually every night not only tightened up core members Ellis and drummer Daryl Swart's performance abilities, but also built them a substantial fan base in the process. After acquiring new member Daniel Ornellas on bass, Tree63 now releases their sophomore Inpop album, The Life and Times of Absolute Truth.

As on the first release, Tree63 is steeped in the traditions of UK-based rock and roll, with opening track "The Glorious Ones" sounding like it could have made The Police's Synchronicity sessions or perhaps U2's early-'80s albums. Besides Ellis' resemblance to Sting's vocal inflection, the band moves in a lively pop/punk direction, revolving around edgy guitars and an aggressive rhythm section. Cuts such as "Anxious Seat" and "Be All End All" are additional examples of their distorted vigor, but lean more in the direction of surf-pop accented by a series of layered harmonies. "Anxious Seat" has a rock radio friendly quality and an infectious ring to it (similar to their last album's "Can I See Your Face"), while the more bouncy "Be All End All" unfortunately is marred by a series of distracting handclaps. (John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" and Toni Basil's "Mickey" this is not). Musically, the group can be forgiven for the brief period of goofiness thanks to cuts such as the electronically spiked "All Hands," the Delirious-styled "No Words," and the album's glowing finale "How Did I Sleep," which follows in the footsteps "A Million Lights" (also from the previous project).

Tree63 wants listeners to believe they possess more depth than a band just riding the current worship fad, and although they thrive from a strong musical perspective, on the lyrical front they fall short of greatness. Songs such as "Here of All Places" and "It's All About to Change" portray a believer grappling with a personal struggle, but rather than digging deep to shed light on such inferred problems, they retreat to the safe haven of ordinary vertical expression. We've all heard lines such as "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah / Better here than nowhere / Something out of nothing / Beauty from ashes" (from "Here of All Places") a million times before. Someone's dream to let go of a particular sin never is never fully explored on "It's All About to Change;" instead we get spiritual cheerleading. Such lack of depth continues on the unimaginative acoustic ballad "All Because," which simply recycles common redemptive lines such as "You covered up my sin / You covered up my silence / You covered up my shame / You made me new again."

Instead of taking the easy way out, I wish the John Ellis and the band had thought a bit more outside the box, delving further into various emotions to complement the inspiring heights of their instrumental skills. While some arrangements mirror those found on the first record quite closely, at least Tree63 isn't going overboard when it comes to experimentation, risking alienation of the fan base they've worked so hard to build up. Such consistency will appeal to those who bought the self-titled disc, while the group's increasingly entertaining stage show (currently part of the Festival Con Dios tour) provides an additional chance to draw in those unfamiliar their strong rock worship sound.